ANDREWS, Texas - Desolate except for plentiful mesquite trees and pumpjacks, the oil field country 34 miles north of Odessa, Texas isn't where you'd expect to stumble across an oasis of water, mature trees, and potentially one of the best golf courses on the entire left side of Texas. Yet that's just what you'll find here in the quiet, hard-working oil community of Andrews (population 10,000). The Andrews County Golf Course, home to nine state champion golf teams, is also celebrated as the proving grounds for the PGA Tour's most promising talent, former Texas 4A State Golf Champion Chad Campbell.
Founded in 1908 and bolstered by the Deep Rock Oil Company's first strike in 1929, the town of Andrews has survived the sporadic nature of the oil industry by drawing upon its citizen's hardiness and strong sense of community. That trait was obvious one recent Sunday as the town gathered at the course grill and in living rooms to watch their hometown boy battle it out in the final round of the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
Some might wonder how this soft-spoken West Texan from the middle of nowhere became the leading money winner on the Hooters Tour, and earned Player of the Year honors three consecutive years before going on to dominate the Nationwide Tour by doing things like hitting 66 of 72 greens in regulation at the Permian Basin Open. Campbell has burst onto the scene by contending frequently, impressing his comrades enough to receive the second-highest vote of some 70 PGA Tour players who designated him as the next first-time major champion (excluding Phil Mickelson).
But to the Andrews locals, Campbell's. explosion onto the national scene - he even became Sports Illustrated's Golf Plus cover boy - comes as no surprise. They cheered him all the way a few Sundays ago as his masterful play took him to the final holes of the seasons final major, which he only lost because of one of the greatest shots that ever has or ever will be hit to win a Grand Slam event. A post-PGA Championship visit to Andrews, Texas, gives a feel for the intangibles that were instrumental in Campbell's road to success in golf and life.
The story began on Northwest 12th Street in an unassuming ranch-style home where Campbell's parents, Phillip and Patsy, laid the foundation for their close-knit family. As part of a golfing family who spent much of their time at the Andrews County course, Campbell first toyed with the game as early as age 4, benefiting from the competition provided by his older brother Mike, seven years his senior.
The competition was intense, according to Patsy Campbell. "Chad always wanted to beat Mike," she said, and the boys spent a lot of time on the links. "There were always young kids on the course in the summer, and the boys definitely benefited from the tough competition in the junior tournaments around West Texas," she said. It must have turned into quite a rivalry, since the elder Campbell is an exceptional golfer in his own right. A former Abilene Christian all-American and the head girls' golf coach at Class 4A Andrews High School (where he led the Lady Mustangs to four consecutive state tournament appearances), Mike recently accepted the head coaching position at ACU.
Listening to the hometown buzz about Campbell, you get the sense that psychologically, he's solid as a rock, grounded by a stable childhood and an extremely close family. Rare for successful athletes today in any sport, Campbell proved how grounded he was by choosing to attend nearby Midland College rather than pursuing a full scholarship to a big-time golf university. The choice surely had a positive influence on his development, since he was able to stay close to home and focus on his game.
According to 26-year head golf coach Delnor Poss, Campbell's time at Midland College helped give him the confidence he needed to compete at a higher level. "Chad is and always has been focused. When he came to our program in 1992 his life was organized and he really didn't have a weakness. He took care of his classes, was able to play in every tournament and make a name for himself, and was generally able to work on improving his strengths."
At Midland College Campbell blossomed under the tutelage of Poss, whose teams have amassed some 260 tournament championships and developed 26 NJCAA All-Americans, including 12 former players active on various professional tours today (Andrew Coltart, Dean Robertson, and Kenneth Ferrie of the European PGA Tour).
Campbell eventually earned a scholarship to UNLV before joining the professional ranks in 1996 and continuing his ascent as one of the game's elite players. His strength and toughness, combined with his natural talent, have resulted in three runner-up finishes in 2003 - at the PGA Championship, the Chrysler Classic of Tucson, and the Honda Classic. Adding to those close calls are solid results in other big-time events, including a tie for sixth at The Players Championship, a seventh at the Memorial Tournament, an eighth at the Nissan Open and the 100th Western Open, and a 15th at the British Open. There's no doubt Campbell has arrived and in a big way, currently in position to finish in the top 10 on the money list.
Which makes it a real privilege to play the charming little golf course where he honed his game as a young golfer: the par-70 Andrews County Golf Course. It was here that Campbell learned to hit fairways and greens so regularly that he was able to take home the school's only individual state championship in 1992.
"As for the Andrews County course, it is a shot-makers course with trees, water, and doglegs, and is well above average for a West Texas course," said coach Poss, who also pointed out the success of the high school golf program that flourished under former coach George Boynton. "The boys' and girl's teams have won a combined nine state titles."
The 6,308-yard golf course, extremely popular in West Texas and thriving to the tune of 40,000 rounds per year despite recent droughts, features fairways that are abundantly lined with mature trees, a rarity for this part of the world. When the Rain Gods give their blessings, the smooth, fast greens and the challenging, Warren Cantrell-designed route test golfers' shot-making ability.
And despite the intense droughts that have tested the once-championship-quality greens for the last ten years golfers still flock to the fairways, patiently waiting as new superintendent Mike Aguero nurses the course back into pristine condition.
"I'm told this was always one of the top courses in Texas," said head golf pro Johnnie Watson, who'll mark his one-year anniversary at the course at the end of October.
Holes of note include some strong openers, especially the 570-yard No. 4. Listed as the second-toughest hole on the course, the monster bends long and right first around bunkers, then water, and forces a carry of the trees on the approach.
One glaring architectural strength is the challenging par-3 holes, three of which play over 190-plus yards from the tips. No. 5 is the easiest of the short holes, playing only 157 yards, yet it's still very deceptive - playing downhill into a green surrounded by trees and sand.
All told, it's easy to see why the course is so popular. The solid layout in good and improving condition, the affordable fee, and most of all, the course's well-designed route, along with the storied high school golf history and a whiff of the Chad Campbell legend, all make for a memorable afternoon of West Texas golf at its finest.
And for a post-round feast you can't beat Buddy's, an old-school hamburger drive-up that's a long-time Andrews tradition. A no frills 1950s style joint, Buddy's serves up another opportunity to soak in the character of Campbell's hometown. As one local commented, "If you order a steak finger basket, you best have a wheelbarrow. And the chicken-fried steak will make you think you've died and gone to heaven."
Jason Stone is the author of The Texas Golf Bible, an 800-page golf/travel book that is the perfect inspiration for filling up the ice chest, spreading out the maps, throwing the clubs in the back of the truck, and heading down the road for a golf adventure. For more information visit texasgolfbible.com.
Chad Campbell photos courtesy of Redwine Images, PGA TOUR
October 9, 2003